10:04 AM

Forward Strides

Working out of a temporary office hasn't kept the New York Board of Trade from improving efficiency

There's a crowded back corner of a coatroom in a converted warehouse in Queens that shows just how determined the New York Board of Trade has been not to let the attacks of Sept. 11 stop its progress.

Eleven of the board's IT employees walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that day last year to the warehouse, which held two backup trading pits maintained in case something ever happened to the 13 pits that were housed in 4 World Trade Center. By that night, 18 people were working furiously to ensure that the backup site was ready for business. On Sept. 16, the day before trading resumed, employees fanned out across the city to buy 200 cell phones for traders to use until heavier-duty telecommunications gear could be set up.

But that frenetic activity gave way to the routine of everyday work. Only then, weeks later, did IT project manager Warren Feuer realize that his team had lost all the work it had done on a wireless-trading project. Traders use a paper-based system to record buying and selling of options and futures contracts on commodities such as coffee and sugar, and Feuer's team had almost finished work last September on 30 custom-configured, handheld devices designed to replace the paper pads. Losing them was trivial given the scope of what had happened, but it's the kind of small setback common to thousands of project teams in New York and at the Pentagon. Feuer's group decided it wasn't going to put innovation on hold while waiting for a permanent headquarters, so it resumed the wireless project and made the cramped coatroom its project headquarters. "After we took a deep breath and realized we were OK and that we were going to be here for a while, it appeared this would be a great place to try this out," Feuer says.

A year later, the Board of Trade is still operating from its backup facility in Long Island City. The building, tucked underneath the elevated subway and surrounded by taxi-repair shops and abandoned warehouses, still feels temporary, with its bare white, paper-thin walls and security guards sitting at folding tables. But the board is hoping it can leave its stopgap quarters soon. A plan is in the works that would move it back to the heart of the financial district. The board is finalizing an agreement to share space with the New York Mercantile Exchange, a deal that takes the meaning of collaboration to new levels and could actually speed up some of the board's plans for IT innovation.

Patrick Gambaro

The New York Board of Trade had disaster plans, but it didn't count on losing its entire facility, says Gambaro.
Of course, the road hasn't been without bumps for the Board of Trade since Sept. 11. The Long Island City location, established after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was designed to cope with only a short-term relocation. When board members realized they might be there more than a year, they rented two more floors in the warehouse, expanded from two to eight trading pits, and upgraded the building's telecom equipment, including a 1,200-line Siemens switch that was delivered by a U.S. Army vehicle in the first week after the attack. The backup site was chosen because it was in a different power, water, and phone grid, but board executives never considered an extended stay. "We never thought we'd lose our facility entirely," says Patrick Gambaro, senior executive VP of floor operations and technology. Still, a year in close quarters hasn't dented the sense of camaraderie and respect--apparent in the back-slapping and joking among traders and employees--that makes these businesspeople seem like a family.

Gambaro and his team, while working long hours to expand the Long Island City facility, also planned and built a backup to the backup location, complete with data recovery. That site, in Manhattan, now serves as the offices for the board's technology staff.

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